Ideas around theories related to connectivity posit that everything is connected. That space, time, and energy are contiguous and analogous.
The interconnected challenges facing the earth’s system and on the negotiating table for decision makers meeting in Rio, has been one of the central issues being discussed here at the Forum. And water, that most basic element of life, perhaps embodies this discussion more than any other of the earth’s resources.
At the Water Security session on Day 2, speaker after speaker trotted out examples of how water, food, energy, climate, and other natural cycles are all deeply connected.
For instance, the global food trade is inextricably linked to international water flows and availability, argues Richard Lawford of Morgan State University. When Brazilians eat Californian fruits, they in effect also consume the water used to produce these.
Because “inter-connected challenges require inter-connected solutions” – an oft-heard refrain here at the Forum –the world cannot solve water problems without also looking at food, energy and the environment, and vice-versa.
Yet, as the panelists point out, governments still treat these problems in the silos of different ministries and departments, as if they are separate issues. And in the latest Rio+20 negotiation text, the section on energy contains nary a word about water.
So how can we bring about these “integrated approaches”?
According to Kuni Takeuchi of ICHARM and Karin Lexen of the Swedish Water House, the development of a common language that allows different players to better talk to one another and communicate risks will be essential; especially when it comes to conversations between politicians, businesses and scientists.
Prof. Takeuchi argued further that “disaster is social, but risk is political: only politicians possess the budget and control to integrate the many players.” Political leaders therefore occupy a central place in coordination and integration.
This view elicited differing opinions from both the panel and the floor. An audience member took to a different phrasing: “water is political, but benefits are social”; thus, if we are able to link water management with security (less water-related crises) and economic benefits, thereby articulating the interests more clearly, coordination and integration would be likelier to happen.
Meanwhile, a fellow panelist did not think the focus should be on the politicians at all. “Politicians are aware,” said Dipak Gyawali, a former Nepalese Minister of Water Resources. “The question is what they do with that awareness.”
According to Gyawali, three critical forces shape policy and society: bureaucratic hierarchy, market individualism, and egalitarian activism.
“Most politicians come from social movements, labor unions or business interests. The way they define issues and problems differ from how, say, a scientist would.”
“Processes are hijacked by bureaucrats. Coordination and integration never happen through bureaucracy!” he said.
Gyawali called for constructive engagement.
“If there is constructive engagement between them, you get stable policies. Otherwise, you get single-minded solutions that end up creating more problems.”